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Home repair project? I never nix it now that I’ve got Mr. Fix-It

Updated: Jul 26, 2023

Two years after I married Allen in 2000, I decided to put my Alameda townhouse on the market, but first I needed to make sure everything worked. That’s why I took down the broken track for my window blinds and put it in the backseat of the car. My plan was to package it and ship it to the factory in Oregon.

Janet's husband using a drill
Janet Silver Ghent's very own Mr. Fix-It

A couple of days later, when Allen picked me up at the Caltrain station, he informed me, “Oh, by the way, I fixed your blind assembly.”

“You fixed it? How did you do that?” I said, incredulously.

“I just happened to have the spare parts in the garage.”

That’ll teach me to stop nagging him about the state of the garage, which I rarely enter. I’m afraid I won’t be able to find my way out amid tools of various vintages, discarded hoses, pipe fittings, wood scraps, bicycles and spare rolls of toilet paper.

After 23 years of marriage, I am learning to accept Allen’s quirks. Bottom line: He saves us money. On three occasions, General Electric sent repair crews to determine why our microwave-convection oven didn’t operate in convection mode. One of them told me it was unreasonable to expect the oven to reach 400 degrees in less than an hour. Then GE sent replacement parts that fixed nothing.

The final visit from GE was a charm, but the fixer was Allen. While the innards of the oven were exposed, Allen looked at the assembly himself. Interestingly, the oven’s thermostat and heating element were practically touching. After the technician left without solving the problem, Allen took apart the oven. He cut a piece of aluminum from an empty coffee can and used it as an improvised shield. Then he wrote a letter of explanation to GE, which rewarded him by extending the warranty and sending him another oven light bulb.

Pre-Allen, the men in my life were not fixers. My father, a World War II veteran who was saved from combat by his typing skills, used to boast that he had the lowest mechanical aptitude in the history of the U.S. Army. My first husband also did not inherit the handyman gene, so I learned to tackle simple repair jobs myself, using a do-it-yourself pamphlet written by women. That’s how I learned to rewire a lamp.

He looked up at me, laughed and said, ‘Bring me a pillow. I need a nap.’

My do-it-yourself experience came in handy when I became Mr. Fix-It’s apprentice. When our dishwasher wouldn’t drain and began flashing an F11 error message, I consulted the manual: F11 means the dishwasher won’t drain. Then we watched a short repair video on YouTube and followed the steps: Remove the lower spray arm, check the holes for clogs. Remove the filter system and clean it. Scoop out the water. Remove the non-return valve and rinse it. Spin the impeller several times in both directions. Then put everything back. We did all that, but the onerous F11 signal flashed again.

Time to call customer service?

You’ve got to be kidding!

In the garage, Mr. Fix-It found an old plastic hose and inserted it into the little plastic valve that sits above the sink. It’s called the dishwasher air gap, but I have no idea what it does, other than occasionally gushing water all over the counter. Then he found an improvised fitting in the plumbing drawer and mated it with the hose. He screwed the fitting onto the faucet and forced the hose down the air gap. Following that, he backflushed the dishwasher drain line through the air gap, creating a puddle in the bottom of the dishwasher. We bailed out the water, put everything back together and ran a short cycle.

The dishwasher drained.

We have no idea what we fixed.

Once the dishwasher was working again, we noticed that the white plastic air gap was crumbling. Allen found a turquoise one online. We removed the old air gap and attempted to connect the new one. As I stood at the sink, Allen lay on the floor, calling out orders: “I need a 5/16 wrench. No, I need a 3/16. Just hand it to me. OK, I’m going to feed the new air gap through the hole. Tell me when you can grab the turquoise contraption. You got it?”

“It’s crooked,” I said. “You need to angle it to your left. Sorry, to your right. Now what?”

I screwed the white plastic nut to the turquoise thing and topped it with a gleaming new steel cover. Mission accomplished. But Allen stayed on the floor. He couldn’t get up. He looked up at me, laughed and said, “Bring me a pillow. I need a nap.”

This column is adapted from Janet Silver Ghent’s forthcoming memoir, tentatively titled “Love atop a Keyboard,” slated for publication by Mascot Books.


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